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View from the VC

Today, 13 November, the Vice Chancellor wrote to all staff. You can read the full email below:

The last few months have been really dark but, finally, it looks as if we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The news at the start of the week that one of the vaccines against Coronavirus is effective, together with optimism about the vaccine being produced by the team at the University of Oxford, is genuinely heart lifting.

I will come to further positive news in a couple of minutes but, first, I want to address the challenges faced by Sussex Food. As I have mentioned in an earlier ‘View’, income at our catering outlets is running at less than 10% of normal in spite of the fact that we continue to have thousands of students on campus and a range of novel and compelling offers which the University has been subsidising. Chartwells, who manage the catering for us, have been looking at their operations nationally in order to stem unsustainable losses and this has included the University.

Over the last few weeks, we have been working closely with Chartwells to find a way to support staff and yesterday agreed a deal which will prevent the need for redundancies at Sussex Food for the time being. This involves the University providing significant financial support and is based both upon Chartwells’ commitment to working with the University for the long-term and our belief that we can return to a form of normality fairly soon.

The second development this week that gives me hope is the announcement by the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan MP, that universities will be provided with the capacity to provide mass asymptomatic testing of both staff and students. We learned yesterday that Sussex’s initial application has been successful and today we are completing the next steps in the selection process before we start to plan our testing site set up next week. Unlike the ‘swab test’, the system that will be rolled out to universities provides results within an hour and, to allow for the fact that there is very small chance of someone receiving a ‘false positive’ (i.e. being incorrectly told that they have the virus), any positive result will be followed by a more sensitive swab test. Testing is expected to begin from 30 November, to enable a staggered timetable for students to leave campuses in the week following the end of lockdown.

Of course, not every student can or will wish to leave their student accommodation in December and we need to put just as much effort into making sure that those students who remain with us feel welcomed and supported over this period. Fortunately, we have excellent and dedicated teams working on this very thing. For those staying with us, we will make it as comfortable and festive as possible.

Although the media has focussed on the ways that this will allow many students to return home for the vacation, it looks as if we will continue to have the facility until the Easter vacation. This means that we will be able to provide asymptomatic testing to students and staff and provide further reassurance that coming to campus to learn and conduct research is safe. I am really looking forward to seeing the campus spring back to life after so many quiet months – and this can only help the long-term futures of staff who work in Sussex Food.

We all hope that the UK’s undeniably strong reputation for research is able to continue after the final stage of Brexit concludes on 31 December, when the post-Brexit transition period ends. This was one of a number of topics of discussion at our Brexit Steering Group this week. We are also looking at potential impacts right across our activities, such as student mobility, student recruitment, procurement and our supply chain, GDPR and other legal implications. On some of these issues, any impact will not be immediate. For example, although the UK Government has not yet committed to Erasmus+ or a replacement scheme, the European Commission has given permission for existing student-exchange partnerships between UK and EU universities to continue for 2021-22. Sussex’s Global Mobility team is in the process of extending these partnerships.

There will be more to report in the coming weeks but, in many ways, we are waiting with the rest of the country for further government announcements or communiques. The good news is that we are in a position to act fast in response to what is likely to be an increasingly fast-moving situation over the coming weeks. We are particularly mindful at the moment of supporting our staff and students from EU countries and there will be additional, specific events and information for these groups before the end of term.

The future of Sussex research outside the EU is obviously high on the agenda of the University’s new Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, Professor Keith Jones. I know that Keith will be writing to colleagues in the next couple of weeks to share his first impressions of Sussex and to outline his views on how we can continue to deliver on our Research with Impact strategy. It’s great to have Keith on board and I, for one, am looking forward to hearing his observations.

I also wanted to let you know that Professor Anna Barnett has decided to step down from her role as Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Industrial Strategy in the spring. Anna has provided vital strategic leadership for our research and enterprise endeavours over the past year and I would like to thank her for her excellent contributions. Working with colleagues in Research and Enterprise, she has really helped to define our approach and we will take this vital work forward. I’m pleased to say that Anna will continue her award-winning research at Sussex in her other roles of Professor of Space Research and Director of the Space Research Group.

I’ll finish with two events I’ve been involved in with remarkable students. On the eve of the election in the US, the Politics Society put on an event to discuss the likely results. I don’t know how they managed it, but their speakers were Paul Taggart, Professor here at Sussex; Sabrina Siddiqui, national politics reporter for the Wall Street Journal and CNN analyst; David Smith, Washington Bureau Chief for the Guardian; Allan Lichtman, from the American University in Washington and probably the only analyst who successfully predicted the outcome of every national election in the US. Unsurprisingly, the discussion was exceptionally well informed and thoughtful, prompted by Mahdi Murtaza, a student from Life Sciences.

Finally, on Wednesday, I recorded an interview alongside Georgia Keetch, the current editor of the Badger and a student in Media, Arts and Humanities, for BBC Newscast. I defy anyone who reads the attacks on young people for the myriad crimes of being young to listen to Georgia and feel anything other than uplifted. Georgia was understanding, caring and thoughtful and represented both our University, and her generation, brilliantly to listeners of the BBC’s most listened to podcast.

With best wishes,

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By: Sean Armstrong
Last updated: Friday, 13 November 2020

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